SCI FICTION, January 05, 2005

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"Nocturne" by J.R. Dunn

ImageJ.R. Dunn's novelette, "Nocturne," is a near-future tale about art and the price of obsession. Billionaire Samuel M. Talwar is a patron of music who ostensibly shares a vision with his protégé and lover, musician Felice Carey. Bryan Mallon is the replacement security guard, hired by Talwar for Felice's triumphant concert. But Mallon knows that obsessions are dangerous, that they "put you in a place where you lacked control, pushed you into things unimaginable otherwise." In a world where ethics run loose and lively, he still believes in living by the rules you make.

As willing subject, Felice permits Talwar to use her in biological experiments, developing a procedure that allows her to realize the genius within herself. But the manipulation's end result is a dangerous virus that, while improving her ability to compose, is also killing her. And therein lies the crux of the issue. Felice's choice and Felice's happiness. If it is her choice to die for her art, should society have the right to gainsay it?

Dunn's language is austere, but gets the job done. Still, "Nocturne" starts a bit slow. It does pick up steam in the second half, although the ending felt fragmented. The climax happens largely off-screen, an unsatisfying conclusion that leaves many questions unanswered. There's mention of a child, and concern about the wellbeing of unborn generations to come which gets short shrift, and feels tacked on. But perhaps that was Dunn's goal, to get the reader to speculate without spoon-feeding them the answers.

Overall, I found "Nocturne" to be a thoughtful, but ultimately unfulfilling read.